Parental Responsibilities and Rights

The Law states that a parent has certain responsibilities and rights towards their child.

They are summarised as follows:

  • To safeguard and promote the child’s health, development and welfare
  • To provide direction and guidance to the child in an age appropriate manner and make decisions on the child’s upbringing
  • To decide where the child lives
  • To regularly maintain personal relations and direct contact with the child if the child is not living with them
  • To act as the child’s legal representative until they are 16 years old
  • To provide guidance to the child until they are 18 years old.

Who has parental responsibilities and rights?


By giving birth to a child, a mother automatically has parental responsibilities and rights, unless they have been removed by a court order.

Father (Child registered before the 4th May 2006)

The father will only have these rights automatically if he was married to the mother at conception, on the birth of the child, or after the birth. If he does not meet any of these conditions, then he will have to apply to a court to be granted parental responsibilities and rights. Alternatively, the mother can grant parental rights to the natural father in a formal document known as a Section 4 Agreement. This is a formal agreement which requires to meet minimum conditions and which must be registered in the Books of Council and Session.

Father (Child registered on or after 4th May 2006)

If the father is named on the birth certificate and the birth is registered jointly by the mother and father, the father will automatically have the same parental responsibilities and rights as the mother, regardless of the marital status of the parents. Again, alternatively, the mother can grant parental rights to the natural father by way of a Section 4 Agreement.

Second Female Parent

This is effectively the same as a Section 4 Agreement for fathers but applies to second female parents where a child has been conceived in a clinic in the UK and where the terms of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008 apply. A second female parent will automatically have parental responsibilities and rights for a child born through donor insemination, if she consented to the insemination, was in a civil partnership with the mother on the date of conception, and that date was on or after 6th April 2009.


A step-parent does not automatically gain parental responsibilities and rights towards a child when they marry or enter into a civil partnership with the child’s parent. To gain PRR’s they have to make an application to a court. However, if the step-parent looks after the child, even on a temporary basis, they are expected by law to ‘safeguard the child’s health, development and welfare’.Without parental responsibilities and rights, a step-parent cannot make important decisions about a step-child’s life, such as their education or religion. This also means that a step-parent cannot usually consent to medical or dental treatment. The step-parent can only consent if a parent is unavailable and if the child cannot give consent on their own, and if they feel that the parent would agree to the treatment.

Acquiring parental responsibilities and rights

There are three ways that a step-parent can acquire parental responsibilities and rights in respect of their step-child:

  • By adopting their stepchild
  • By making an application to a Court as a person who ‘claims an interest’ to the child. Other applicants may include grandparents, aunts and uncles. A parent who already has responsibilities and rights will not lose them because they have been granted to someone else as well.
  • By being appointed guardian to care for the child if their natural parent dies. The rights and responsibilities only transfer to the stepparent on the death of the natural parent, then co-exist alongside those PRR’s of any other person.